TORONTO – Parents who live in small towns and rural areas across Ontario are calling for a change in education funding as a number of boards are considering closing a slew of schools.
In eastern Ontario, the Upper Canada District School Board is suggesting that as many as 29 schools be closed in the next two years. Near Sudbury, the Rainbow District School Board proposes shuttering four schools, while the Bluewater District School Board in the Owen Sound area also is looking at closing four schools. The fate of five others is under consideration by the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board near Belleville.
Parents who live in the districts are fuming, saying the school closures will leave some kids stuck on buses for as long as four hours each day.
Parents from across Ontario plan to protest at the provincial legislature on Monday. Large groups are taking buses to make the four-hour journey to Toronto, where they’ll rally and attend question period.
They say that some kids may not be able to participate in extracurricular activities like sports and clubs because they would be left stranded after the activities are over, with no way to get home.
That’s the case for Tiina Rideout’s 16-year-old son Nicholas, a Grade 11 student at Lively District Secondary School. Lively, which is attended by about 400 students in Grades 7 to 12, is one of the schools slated for closure in the Sudbury area.
“He eats, lives, drinks, breathes sports. Any sport that he can play – except hockey,” Rideout said. “Not to sound like I’m bragging or anything, but he is a gifted athlete.”
Nicholas is the quarterback on the school’s football team, and has been the subject of a few articles in the Sudbury paper. He’s a point guard on the basketball team, and has played volleyball and competitive soccer.
Nicholas takes a 15-minute bus ride from home to Lively, and from there, he sometimes walks to work at a local grocery store after classes end.
If Lively is closed, playing sports and working after school may have to end, Rideout said. Nicholas would be transferred to a school in Sudbury, an hour-long bus ride from home. He couldn’t stay late to play sports, because his parents work and aren’t able to pick him up from Sudbury. And he would be home late, so he wouldn’t have time to work after school.
Rideout said that the Ministry of Education needs to change the way schools are funded to protect students in small towns.
People For Education, an independent organization that researches public education and makes policy recommendations, issued a report this year focusing on the disparity between schools in urban areas and those in rural areas or small towns.
Annie Kidder, the organization’s executive director, said that while some schools do need to be closed, there are always consequences. And those consequences go beyond individual kids.
“We have to think, ‘Do we want people living in small towns?’ Because closing schools is a good way to discourage it,” she said.
It’s up to individual school boards to decide how many and which schools to close, but a lack of funding puts some schools in a bind.
“The province and the school boards keep passing the buck back and forth about whose fault it is,” she said.
Much of the funding is tied to student enrolment, Kidder said – including funding to heat, light, maintain and repair schools. She said this funding model disadvantages schools in rural areas or small towns, which won’t have as many students as schools in urban centres.
Heather Irwin, a representative for the Ministry of Education, said in a written statement that the ministry believes students deserve to attend the best schools possible.
She said that the ministry provided more funding to schools in 2016 than 2015, “despite declining enrolment.”
“The future of our communities depends on our children, and redirecting dollars from under-utilized schools to supports for students in the classroom is a measured approach that puts students first,” she said in the statement.
She also noted that the ministry doesn’t have the authority to overrule school boards’ decisions on closures.